Monday, May 7, 2012

Please Don't Feed the Dust Bunnies

I believe I have briefly alluded to my job on here, but not in very much detail (as it generally doesn't relate to my usual meanderings). In fact, I think the way in which I have described it was something like this:

Let me explain: I don't wear a bison hat and float around in laundry basket on my job. However, it often feels this way. I'm the assistant building manager at the apartment building I live in. Here's a quick synopsis: it's an old brownstone that used to be a hotel in the 1940s. My roommate (the main building manager) and I are in charge of maintaining... well, everything: from changing light bulbs to fixing minor repairs to calling people to come out and fix major problems to giving people tours when the new lease season rolls around to cleaning each unit when people move out. Have I been in water up to my ankles, bailing out someone's bathroom when the water main burst? Yep. Have I inhaled concrete dust while cleaning out the boiler room because it hadn't been cleaned in God knows when? Yes. Have I felt the not-so-subtle sexism of someone's uncertainty that I can do my job because I'm a woman? Yes. It is not the most pleasant of jobs. But dammit, when it comes down to it, I like it. It's not something most people would want to do or even choose to do. Yet I've gathered skills from business management to home repair to just flat-out communication skills. And I don't think you've truly lived until you've cleaned the hair and dust and dirt from a vacuum cleaner's filter with your bare hands (which is exactly how I spent my morning, thank you very much).

We had a tenant unexpectedly move out this morning and the state of her studio apartment was not so good (please, please, PLEASE tenants of the world: when you leave your unit, for God's sake CLEAN. Most buildings hire cleaning crews but after having to clean units by myself, by hand, I would not wish it on anyone. And wipe down the inside of the fridge; you know when you spilled milk in there and I don't; when I have to clean up the solidified, spoiled substance that's taken on a yellowish tinge in the bottom of the fridge, remember it's coming from your security deposit). So I spent part of the day cleaning her unit, finding stuff she (or perhaps even a previous tenant) had left behind and feeling... well, generally odd. I don't know if you've ever cleaned a living space that wasn't your own, but it has a very weird vibe to it. It's like a detective, going through someone's stuff, except in reverse; you're finding what they left behind and trying to remove any trace it was ever there at all. It's incredibly bizarre. Anyway, I'm trying to occupy my mind with something and I end up thinking about celebrity homes and who the hell cleans them. Because this sure as hell doesn't clean itself:

So, being curious, I did some research. Once I got past articles about "spring cleaning" by celebrities (meaning their homes are for sale and we are to yearn after them, fruitlessly wishing we could own Kim Kardashian's mansions; or so the journalists entice us to yearn) and some story about two guys pulling a prank about installing gutters at celebrity homes, I finally found this site, which describes "household managers," "executive housekeepers," and "laundry specialists." Creepy, and not entirely helpful. And there was nothing much after that... something about the X Factor "cleaning house," and various celebrities "cleaning up their act." And that was it. It's still a mystery. But I have a hunch who does it and why I can't find a damn thing about it.

In the United States, most janitorial staff these days are minority populations or immigrants. The last time I stayed at a hotel, I noticed that nearly all of the women who cleaned the rooms were Hispanic, or of African or Middle Eastern descent. This is the norm now; this is how it would be if you were to hire a maid for your own home, and this is how I imagine it is for celebrity homes as well.

And yet here I am, doing work that isn't too different from theirs, except that I have the cushy, incredibly fortunate benefit of being in school at the same time. I, presumably, won't have to do this sort of work for the rest of my life. But I was thinking about this work and how I'm qualified at something I'll likely never use - namely knowing what to clean in another person's place. It takes an eye for detail, it really does, and you have to think about things that might often be missed that collect dust - the tops of doors and door jams, the woodwork around the edge of rooms, the top of the fridge. I feel like I've accomplished something when I leave an apartment utterly clean. But it's different for me; I don't do this every day of my life. And I most likely won't have to after I get my degree.

It's this strange quandary for me, having a management position that requires blue collar work while I simultaneously read Baudelaire and Baudrillard while the people running my university hire their homes to be cleaned by the same people who's jobs and lives I've been pondering. It's this suddenly apparent illustration of class that puts me in a strange position. I'm middle-class, in college, white, female. But I'm doing work that most people would scoff at. And yet I'm curious to know what it would be like to work in the hotel industry or in a hostel, changing sheets and cleaning toilets. Or what it would be like to clean the floors and windows of Brad Pitt and Angelina Joli's home. And yet I also want to know what it's like to be immersed in such wealth. To know how people can wear shoes that cost more than my entire wardrobe combined (and then some). And how these two extremes can exist at the same time, in the same place.

These shoes cost £920,000. Seriously.
Sometimes, when I get to thinking about things like this, I realize how utterly bizarre the world is.

And this simultaneously makes it better and worse.

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